Donna McIntyre meets a family living a different but affordable lifestyle, with a strong sense of community

On a warm, sunny day, the lifestyle looks idyllic.

A charming houseboat in a calm bay on Waiheke. Open windows letting the sunshine stream in.

Kukurei is home, sweet houseboat, to Mary Christie and three of her children; Joe, 17, Rose, 15, Grace, 12, and their dog Ella.

Their 32-foot catamaran's name Kukurei is Kiribati for happiness, acknowledging the boat builder's family connection with the islands.

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The catamaran cost $30,000. Mary put down a $10,000 deposit and paid back the previous owners on a generous, no-interest loan.

Kukurei sits back from the shore at Putiki Bay and has been Mary's home for eight years - at first with her partner who suggested the notion - a definite change to the Hong Kong lifestyle Mary had left behind.

The boat has two quarter berths, two double cabins, a bathroom/shower and galley. There is a pot belly for heating, a gas califont in the bathroom to heat shower water, and a kettle for the galley. They have solar and wind power.

"It is definitely more affordable than a house in the sense of money, but I would say it is not everyone's cup of tea," says Mary.

Her houseboat is one of 11 allowed at two locations on Waiheke under the evolving rules of the unitary plan. She has had to apply for resource consent at a cost of $3500 (plus an annual cost) to continue living on the boat, and comply with a list of rules and regulations.

She says houseboaters feel they should pay for amenities and services they use while living in this beautiful beachfront spot, saying she is committed to the lifestyle.

The toilet block on the shore is where their toilet water goes.

"We have to have somewhere to put our sewage water, even our washing up water and our shower water because they don't want any grey water going into the ocean."

The "Kukurei crew" collect water from the toilet block tap, carrying it to the boat in a 3-litre container.

"We use about 20 to 25 litres a day, for making teas and cooking. That is not including showers."

They must stay within the designated area for houseboats, and their fixtures into the seabed have been inspected by the council. "We are not allowed any ropes attached to the shore, we have to be a certain distance out from the shore. We have to keep our boat tidy and presentable.

"This is probably the only bay of Waiheke where you are safe from all the prevailing winds. It would be dangerous to go anywhere else. We believe we are part of the diverse culture, the colour and texture of the community. "I feel a real connection here with the community, this is where we belong.

"We take so much care of this environment, the children are aware of what is going on here, we have fish swimming round our boat that come back every year."

Mary has home-schooled her children, grows veges at the hall where she teaches violin, and bikes to local stores with a trolley behind her bike to carry provisions.

The existing nine houseboats on Waiheke will be provided for through a resource consent process but, apart from two more available moorings, new houseboats will not generally be encouraged.

Paul Walden, Waiheke Local Board chairman says the resource consent process ensures that the boat is seaworthy, sanitary and pollutants, including effluent, are addressed in an environmentally sensitive fashion.

Daniel Sansbury, manager of natural resources and specialist input, resource consents at Auckland Council, says the current plan for Auckland's coast does not specifically address houseboats or the use of vessels for residential use. However, it has clear rules for moorings, occupation, and discharges.

"The new Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, which will replace the current coastal plan, does place controls on houseboats. It defines a 'houseboat' as 'any vessel or floating structure designed, fitted and used primarily for a residential purpose, as opposed to transport or recreation'." He emphasises the Unitary Plan does not seek to place controls on the use of recreational vessels for short-term overnight purposes.

"In providing for houseboats, the Unitary Plan specifically establishes two mooring zones: Rangihoua Creek, and Wharf Road, Putiki Bay, on Waiheke Island."

Rangihoua Creek provides for a maximum of seven houseboats. Wharf Road provides for four.

"A resource consent is required to moor a houseboat in these two mooring zones," says Daniel. "During the submissions, mediation and hearings for the Proposed Plan, the Rangihoua Creek Mooring zone houseboat owners sought that the existing houseboats be allowed to be a permitted activity (i.e. no resource consent is required) provided they meet a set of controls, including waste removal, checks on structural soundness, maintaining navigation and public access, and retaining the current size and character of the houseboats.

The council's experts supported this proposal at the hearing.

He says the Unitary Plan also provides that for residential uses and houseboats within marina zones, resource consent would still be required.

"National regulations prohibit the discharge of untreated sewage from vessels in specified circumstances. No discharges of untreated sewage may occur within 500m of the line of mean high water springs, a marine farm, or in water less than 5m deep."